“Flying Ant Day”

Up at the plot for the third day running, making a habit of getting here early. this is the height of summer, temperatures reaching – for us – a staggering near-thirty Celsius – so an earlier start means avoiding being out in the mid-day sun (which is for mad dogs as well as Englishmen). Having been away in Cornwall the weeds have taken a stranglehold and it is taking some time and effort to grub them out. But it is also enjoyable, especially by today when I can see the progress that’s been made.

There is an argument I am familiar with that says weeds growing amongst crops are natural mulch, helping prevent evaporation and conserving moisture and ideal growing conditions. I find some solace and some truth in that. The ground where I am weeding is still moist early in the day. But those self-same weeds also take the moisture they are saving so …

Sweetcorn has appeared from the chaos: shoulder high and glossy green, two rows of burgeoning peas stand proud of the plucked, assorted weeds now and the potatoes, ready to be dug, up are cleared. There is potato blight on site so getting them up now is a wise move.

Runner beans, late in, are in flower; while other plot holders are actually harvesting theirs as I type.

But there are so many insects about; flies of all natures around the stacked-with-weeds and fortuitously delivered-to-site horse muck compost bin started on Sunday and already head high (before decomposition takes it apart and reduces the height). Ladybirds, bees (some honeybees almost certainly from the on-site hive) and bumble bees droning around.

But on the teasel and marjoram is a veritable queue of butterflies, dancing and twirling: peacock, red admiral, tortoiseshell, comma, painted lady, gatekeeper, speckled wood, small skipper and small copper. They flit to and from the bramble-loaded hedgerow (that needs trimming).

But my eye is taken, while draining a bottle of “fizzy water”, by furious industrial scale miniature activity in one of the three raised beds where we have the pumpkins. These plants themselves are taking off like some kind of John Wyndham creations, big elephant-ear leaves spreading out and the growing tips, roaming about like Medusa’s snakes. But, looking closer, the soil is disturbed. Flying-ant day. As I watch, from below ground there begins to emerge a steady, slightly wobbly stream of winged ants.  They spill out and down the sides, clamber across the dry soil, scale up the hairy leaves and stalks, the big yellow flowers. Frenzied activity. The nest will have been preparing for this moment since the beginning of the warm spell I guess.

The following is taken from an on-line report from the Guardian.

“’Flying Ant Day’ is the layman’s term for the time in which the queen ants from various ant colonies emerge from their nest to begin their nuptial flight and look for male ants to mate with and begin new colonies.

The queen ant (usually the biggest winged ant you can find) will leave the nest with a number of male ants and begin their flight to try and find a suitable partner.

The queen and the male ants from the colony will then disperse to ensure that there is no cross breeding and, then, when far enough away from her worker ants the queen will release pheromones that are designed to attract frisky males.”

there is a great, if too-short BBC video about it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Black_garden_ant#p01jmb8g

And, sure enough, glancing up, there are the starlings that will take sweeps through them before they leave the ground and the swifts and swallows that’ll snap up those that get higher.

I sit for a good fifteen minutes, sweat literally running down my face: drinking water and observing the good that nature has done, is doing on the plots. It’s simply magical to be some small part of the whole thing; supporting the so-called creepy crawlies – compulsively fascinating when watched as I watched earlier – that are the base of a wildlife system that spreads far and wide.

After the break I will myself to trim the hedge … but have to call it quits after that. Satisfying few days tidying up the site. It’s not perfect but it’s recognizable again now.

Climbing into the car with a carrier bag full of courgettes-come-marrows I am not surprised to find winged ants on the windscreen of the car.










One response to this post.

  1. Hmm, I haven’t noticed any flying ants here so far this year, perhaps they are having a lie-in.


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